Every one who sojourns in India for any lengthened period, will, I believe, agree with me, that in order to promote health of body, the mind must be employed in active pursuits. The constitutionally idle persons, of either sex, amongst Europeans, are invariably most subject to feel distressed by the prevailing annoyances of an Indian climate: from a listless life results discontent, apathy, and often disease. I have found, by experience, the salutary effects of employing time, as regards, generally, healthiness of body and of mind. The hours devoted to this occupation (tracing remarks for the perusal of far distant friends) have passed by without a murmur or a sigh, at the height of the thermometer, or the length of a day during the season of hot winds, or of that humid heat which prevails throughout the periodical rains. Time flies quickly with useful employment in all places; in this exhausting climate every one has to seek amusement in their own resources, from sunrise to sunset, during which period there is no moving from home for, at least, eight months out of the twelve. I have not found any occupation so pleasant as talking to my friends, on paper, upon such subjects as may admit of the transfer for their acceptance--and may I not hope, for their gratification also?
The patriarchal manners are so often pictured to me, in many of the every-day occurrences exhibited in the several families I have been most acquainted with in India, that I seem to have gone back to that ancient period with my new-sought home and new friends. Here I find the master and mistress of a family receiving the utmost veneration from their slaves and domestics, whilst the latter are permitted to converse and give their opinions with a freedom (always respectful), that at the first view would lead a stranger to imagine there could be no great inequality of station between the persons conversing. The undeviating kindness to aged servants, no longer capable of rendering their accustomed services; the remarkable attention paid to the convenience and comfort of poor relatives, even to the most remote in consanguinity; the beamings of universal charity; the tenderness of parents; and the implicit obedience of children, are a few of those amiable traits of character from whence my allusions are drawn, and I will add, by which my respect has been commanded. In their reverential homage towards parents, and in affectionate solicitude for the happiness of those venerated authors of their existence, I consider them the most praiseworthy people existing.
On the spirit of philanthropy exhibited in their general charity, I may here remark, that they possess an injunction from their Lawgiver, 'to be universally charitable'. This command is reverenced and obeyed by all who are his faithful followers. They are persuaded that almsgiving propitiates the favour of Heaven, consequently this belief is the inducing medium for clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, supporting the weak, consoling the afflicted, protecting the fatherless, sheltering the houseless traveller, and rendering the ear and the heart alive to the distresses of the poor in all situations. A good Mussulmaun never allows the voice to pass unheeded where the suppliant applies, 'In the name of God', or 'For the love of God'.
I have often been obliged to hear the Mussulmauns accused of an ostentatious display of their frequent acts of charity. It may be so in some instances; human nature has failings common to all complexions. Pride may sometimes open the purse of the affluent to the poor man's petition; but when the needy benefit by the rich, it is unjust to scrutinize the heart's motive, where the act itself alleviates the present sufferings of a fellow-creature.
Imposition is doubtless often practised with success by the indolent, who excite the good feelings of the wealthy by a tale of woe; the sin rests with him who begs unworthily, not with him who relieves the supposed distresses of his poorer neighbour. The very best of human beings will acknowledge they derive benefits from the bounty of their Maker, not because they are deserving, but that 'He is merciful'.
I shall have occasion to detail in my Letters some of the Mussulmaun observances, festivals, &c., which cannot be accomplished without feeding the poor; and, in justice to their general character, be it acknowledged, their liberality is not confined to those stated periods.
The Syaads (Meers) are descendants from Mahumud, the acknowledged Prophet and Lawgiver of the Mussulmauns; and, as might be expected, are peculiar objects of respect and favour amongst the true believers (as those who hold their faith are designated). 'The poor Syaad's family' are the first to be considered when the rich have determined on dispensing gifts in charity. The Syaads, however, are under peculiar restrictions as regards the nature of those gifts which they are permitted to accept. Money obtained by unlawful means, as forbidden in the Khoraun (usury for instance), is deemed polluted, and must neither be offered to, nor accepted by, these 'children of the Prophet'.
The Syaads are the Lords of Mussulmaun society, and every female born to them is a Lady (Begum). Heralds' offices they have none, but genealogy is strictly kept in each Mussulmaun family, who can boast the high privilege of bearing the Prophet's blood in their veins. The children of both sexes are taught, from the time of their first speaking intelligibly, to recount their pedigree, up to Hasan, or Hosein, the two sons of Ali, by his cousin Fatima, the daughter of their Prophet: this forms a striking part of their daily education, whilst they continue in their mother's zeenahnah (lady's apartment); and, from the frequent repetition, is so firmly fixed in the memory, that they have no difficulty in tracing their pedigree whenever called upon to do so, unaided by the manuscript genealogy kept with care in the parental treasury.
This method of retaining lineage is not always a check against impostors; many have taken upon themselves the honourable distinction of the Syaad, without having the slightest claim to the title; but when the cheat is discovered such persons are disgraced, and become aliens to the respectable. So many advantages are enjoyed by Syaads, that it is not surprising there should be some, which have no right, anxious to be numbered with those who are truly the Mussulmaun lords; though such men are taught to believe that, by the usurpation, they shut themselves out from the advantages of their Prophet's intercession at the great day of judgment.
The Syaads are very tenacious in retaining the purity of their race unsullied, particularly with respect to their daughters; a conscientious Syaad regards birth before wealth in negotiations for marriage: many a poor lady, in consequence of this prejudice, lives out her numbered days in single blessedness, although--to their honour be it told--many charitably disposed amongst the rich men of the country have, within my recollection of Indian society, granted from their abundance sufficient sums to defray the expenses of a union, and given the marriage portion, unsolicited, to the daughters of the poorer members of this venerated race. A Syaad rarely speaks of his pecuniary distresses, but is most grateful when relieved.
I am intimately acquainted with a family in which this pride of birth predominates over every advantage of interest. There are three unmarried daughters, remarkable for their industrious habits, morality, and strict observance of their religious duties; they are handsome, well-formed women, polite and sensible, and to all this they add an accomplishment which is not by any means general amongst the females of Hindoostaun, they have been taught by their excellent father to read the Khoraun in Arabic--it is not allowed to be translated,--and the Commentary in Persian. The fame of their superiority has brought many applications from the heads of families possessing wealth, and desirous to secure for their sons wives so eminently endowed, who would waive all considerations of the marriage dowry, for the sake of the Begum who might thus adorn their untitled house. All these offers, however, have been promptly rejected, and the young ladies themselves are satisfied in procuring a scanty subsistence by the labour of their hands. I have known them to be employed in working the jaullie (netting) for courties (a part of the female dress), which, after six days' close application, at the utmost could not realize three shillings each; yet I never saw them other than contented, happy, and cheerful,--a family of love, and patterns of sincere piety.
The titles and distinctions conferred by sovereigns, or the Hon. East India Company in India, as Khaun, Bahadhoor, Nuwaub, &c., are not actually hereditary honours, though often presumed on, and indulged in, by successors. The Syaads, on the contrary, are the Meers and Begums (nobility) throughout their generations to the end of time, or at any rate, with the continuance of the Mussulmaun religion.
Having thus far explained the honourable distinction of the Syaads, I propose giving you some account of the Mahurrum, a celebrated mourning festival in remembrance of their first martyrs, and which occupies the attention of the Mussulmauns annually to a degree of zeal that has always attracted the surprise of our countrymen in India; some of whom, I trust, will not be dissatisfied with the observations of an individual, who having spent many years of her life with those who are chief actors in these scenes, it may be expected, is the better able to explain the nature of that Mahurrum which they see commemorated every year, yet many, perhaps, without comprehending exactly why. Those strong expressions of grief--the sombre cast of countenance,--the mourning garb,--the self-inflicted abstinence, submitted to by the Mussulmaun population, during the ten days set apart for the fulfilment of the mourning festival, all must have witnessed who have been in Hindoostaun for any period.
I must first endeavour to represent the principal causes for the observance of Mahurrum; and for the information of those who have witnessed its celebration, as well as for the benefit of others who have not had the same opportunity, describe the manner of celebrating the event, which occurred more than twelve hundred years ago.
Hasan and Hosein were the two sons of Fatima and Ali, from whom the whole Syaad race have generated; Hasan was poisoned by an emissary of the usurping Calipha's; and Hosein, the last sad victim of the family to the King Yuzeed's fury, suffered a cruel death, after the most severe trials, on the plains of Kraabaallah, on the tenth day of the Arabian month Mahurrum; the anniversary of which catastrophe is solemnized with the most devoted zeal.
This brief sketch constitutes the origin of the festival; but I deem it necessary to detail at some length the history of that period, which may the better explain the motives assigned by the Mussulmauns, for the deep grief exhibited every year, as the anniversary of Mahurrum returns to these faithful followers of their martyred leaders, Hasan and Hosein, who, with their devoted families, suffered innocently by the hands of the guilty.
Yuzeed, the King of Shawm, it appears, was the person in power, amongst the followers of Mahumud, at that early period of Mussulmaun history. Of the Soonie sect, his hatred to the descendants of Mahumud was of the most inveterate kind; jealousy, it is supposed, aided by a very wicked heart, led him to desire the extirpation of the whole race, particularly as he knew that, generally, the Mussulmaun people secretly desired the immediate descendants of their Prophet to be their rulers. They were, however, intimidated by Yuzeed's authority; whilst he, ever fearing the possibility of the Syaads' restoration to their rights, resolved, if possible, on sacrificing the whole family, to secure himself in his illegal power.
Ali had been treacherously murdered through the contrivances of the usurping Calipha; after his death, the whole family removed from Shawm, the capital, to Medina, where they lived some years in tranquillity, making many converts to their faith, and exercising themselves in the service of God and virtuous living. Unostentatious in their habits and manners, they enjoyed the affection of their neighbours, their own good name increasing daily, to the utter dismay of their subtle enemy.
In the course of time, the devout people of Shawm, being heartily tired of Yuzeed's tyrannical rule, and fearing the true faith would be defamed by the excesses and abuses of power committed by him, they were desirous of calling to their aid a leader from the Prophet's family, who would secure, in its original purity, the performance of that religion which Mahumud had taught. Some thousands of respectable Mussulmauns, it is related, signed a petition to Hosein, requesting his immediate presence at Shawm, in order, as the petition stated, 'that the religion his grandsire taught might be supported and promoted'; and declaring 'the voluptuousness and infamy of Yuzeed's life to be so offensive and glaring, that the true faith was endangered by his vicious examples'; and entreating him to accept his lawful rights as 'Emaum' (Leader of the Faithful).
Hosein received the petition, but declined accepting the proposed restitution of his family's rights at that time; yet he held out hopes in his reply, that he might eventually listen to their entreaties, should he be convinced his presence was essential to their welfare; and, as a prelude to this, he sent his cousin Moslem, on whom he could rely, to make personal observation of the real state of things at Shawm; expecting to learn, from his matured knowledge, the real causes of complaint, and the wishes of the people, and by whose report he would be guided, as to his final acceptance or rejection of the proposed measure for his becoming their leader.
Moslem, accompanied by his two sons, mere youths, left Medina on this important mission, and having accomplished the tedious march without accident or interruption, he delivered Hosein's letters to those persons of consequence in Shawm, who were at the head of the party petitioning his appearance there, and who proffered their influence and support for the recovery of the rights and privileges so long withheld from the descendants of Mahumud.
Moslem was kindly greeted by them, and multitudes flocked to his quarters, declaring Hosein the lawful leader of true Mussulmauns. Elated with these flattering indications, he too promptly despatched his messengers to Hosein, urging his immediate return to Shawm.
In the mean time, and long before the messengers could reach Medina, Yuzeed, learning the state of things in the capital, was seriously alarmed and greatly enraged; he issued orders for the seizure of Moslem and his children, and desiring to have them brought to his presence, offered immense sums of money for their capture. The friends of Moslem, however, succeeded, for a time, in secreting his person from King Yuzeed's emissaries, trusting the darkness of night would enable him to escape. But the slaves and dependants of the tyrant being despatched into all quarters of the city, Moslem's retreat was eventually discovered; and, through the influence of a purse of gold, his person was given up to the King's partizans.
The unfortunate agent of Hosein had confided the charge of his two sons to the Kauzy of the city, when the first report reached him of the tyrant Yuzeed's fury. This faithful Kauzy, as the night advanced, intended to get the poor boys conveyed to the halting place of a Kaarawaun, which he knew was but a few miles off, on their route for Medina. The guide, to whom the youths were intrusted, either by design or mistake, took the wrong road; and, after wandering through the dreary night, and suffering many severe trials, they were taken prisoners by the cruel husband of a very amiable female, who had compassionately, at first, given them shelter as weary travellers only; but, on discovering whose children they were, she had secreted them in her house. Her husband, however, having discovered the place of their concealment, and identified them as the sons of Moslem, cruelly murdered the innocent boys for the sake of the reward offered for their heads. In his fury and thirst for gold, this wicked husband of the kind-hearted woman spared not his own wife and son, who strove by their united efforts, alternately pleading and resisting, to save the poor boys from his barbarous hands.
This tragic event is conveyed into pathetic verse, and as often as it is repeated in the families of the Mussulmauns, tears of fresh sympathy are evinced, and bewailings renewed. This forms the subject for one day's celebration during Mahurrum; the boys are described to have been most beautiful in person, and amiable in disposition.
After enduring ignominy and torture, and without even being brought to trial, Moslem was cast from a precipice, by Yuzeed's orders, and his life speedily terminated, to glut the vengeance of the tyrant King.
As the disastrous conclusion of Moslem's mission had not reached the ear of Hosein, he, elated with the favourable reception of his cousin, and the prospect of being received at Shawm in peace and good will, had without delay commenced his journey, accompanied by the females of his family, his relations, and a few steady friends who had long devoted themselves to his person and cause. The written documents of that remarkable period notice, that the whole party of Hosein, travelling from Medina towards Shawm, consisted only of seventy-two souls: Hosein having no intention to force his way to the post of leader, had not deemed it necessary to set out with an army to aid him, which he undoubtedly might have commanded by his influence with the people professing 'the Faith'.
Yuzeed, in the mean time, having by his power destroyed Moslem and the two youths his sons, and receiving positive intelligence that Hosein had quitted Medina to march for Shawm, as his fears suggested, with an army of some magnitude, he ordered out an immense force to meet Hosein on the way, setting a price on his head, and proclaiming promises of honours and rewards, of the most tempting nature, to the fortunate man who should succeed in the arduous enterprise.
The first detachment of the Shawmies (as they are designated in the manuscript of Arabia), under a resolute chief named Hurrh, fell in with Hosein's camp, one day's march beyond the far-famed ground, amongst Mussulmauns, of Kraabaallah, or Hurth Maaree, as it was originally called.
Hurrh's heart was subdued when he entered the tent of the peaceable Hosein, in whose person he discovered the exact resemblance of the Prophet; and perceiving that his small camp indicated a quiet family party journeying on their way, instead of the formidable force Yuzeed's fears had anticipated, this chief was surprised and confounded, confessed his shame to Hosein that he had been induced to accept the command of the force despatched against the children of the Prophet, and urged, in mitigation of his offences, that he had long been in Yuzeed's service, whose commission he still bore; but his heart now yearning to aid, rather than persecute the Prophet's family, he resolved on giving them an opportunity to escape the threatened vengeance of their bitterest enemy. With this view, he advised Hosein to fall with his party into the rear of his force, until the main body of the Shawmies had passed by; and as they were then on the margin of a forest, there to separate and secrete themselves till the road was again clear, and afterwards to take a different route from the proposed one to Shawm.
Hosein felt, as may be supposed, grateful to his preserver; and, following his directions, succeeded in reaching the confines of Kraabaallah unmolested.
The ancient writings of Arabia say, Mahumud had predicted the death of Hosein, by the hands of men professing to be of 'the true faith', at this very place Kraabaallah, or Hurth Maaree.
Hosein and his family having concluded their morning devotions, he first inquired and learned the name of the place on which their tents were pitched, and then imparted the subject of his last night's dream, 'that his grandsire had appeared to him, and pronounced that his soul would be at peace with him ere that day closed'. Again he fell on his knees in devout prayer, from which he rose only to observe the first warnings of an approaching army, by the thick clouds of dust which darkened the horizon; and before the evening closed upon the scene, Hosein, with every male of his small party capable of bearing arms, had been hurried to their final rest. One son of Hosein's, insensible from fever at the time, was spared from the sacrifice, and, with the females and young children, taken prisoners to the King's palace at Shawm.
The account given by historians of this awful battle, describes the courage and intrepidity of Hosein's small band, in glowing terms of praise; having fought singly, and by their desperate bravery 'each arm (they say) levelled his hundreds with their kindred dust ere his own gave way to the sway of death'.
Amongst the number of Hosein's brave defenders was a nephew, the son of Hasan: this young man, named Cossum, was the affianced husband of Hosein's favourite daughter, Sakeena Koobraah; and previous to his going to the combat on that eventful day, Hosein read the marriage lines between the young couple, in the tent of the females. I mention this here, as it points to one particular part of the celebration of Mahurrum, which I shall have occasion to mention in due order, wherein all the outward forms of the wedding ceremony are strictly performed, annually.
During the whole of this terrible day, at Kraabaallah, the family party of Hosein had been entirely deprived of water; and the river Fraught (Euphrates) being blockaded by their enemies, they suffered exceedingly from thirst. The handsome Abass, another nephew of Hosein, and his standard-bearer, made many efforts to procure water for the relief of the almost famishing females; he had, at one attempt, succeeded in filling the mushukh, when, retreating from the river, he was discovered by the enemy, was pursued and severely wounded, the mushukh pierced by arrows, and the water entirely lost ere he could reach the camp.
In remembrance of this privation of the sufferers at Kraabaallah, every good Mussulmaun, at Mahurrum, distributes sherbet in abundance, to all persons who choose to accept this their favourite beverage (sugar and water, with a little rosewater, or kurah, to flavour it); and some charitable females expend large sums in milk, to be distributed in the public streets; for these purposes, there are neat little huts of sirrakee (a reed, or grass, resembling bright straw) erected by the road side of the Mussulmauns' houses; they are called saabeels, where the red earthen cups of milk, sherbet, or pure water are seen ranged in rows, for all who choose to call for drink.
Hosein, say their historians, was the last of the party who suffered on the day of battle; he was surrounded in his own camp--where, by the usage of war, at that time, they had no right to enter--and when there was not one friendly arm left to ward the blow. They relate 'that his body was literally mangled, before he was released from his unmerited sufferings'. He had mounted his favourite horse, which, as well as himself, was pierced by arrows innumerable; together they sank on the earth from loss of blood, the cowardly spearmen piercing his wounded body as if in sport; and whilst, with his last breath, 'Hosein prayed for mercy on his destroyers, Shimeear ended his sufferings by severing the already prostrate head from the mutilated trunk'.--'Thus they sealed (say those writers) the lasting disgrace of a people, who, calling themselves Mussulmauns, were the murderers of their Prophet's descendants.'
This slight sketch gives but the outline of those events which are every year commemorated amongst the zealous followers of Ali, the class denominated Sheahs.
The Mussulmaun people, I must here observe, are divided into two distinct sects, viz. the Sheahs and the Soonies. The former believe Ali and his descendants were the lawful leaders after Mahumud; the latter are persuaded that the Caliphas, as Aboubuker, Omir, &c., were the leaders to be accredited 'lawful'; but of this I shall speak more fully in another Letter.
Perhaps the violence of party spirit may have acted as an inducement to the Sheahs, for the zealous annual observance of this period, so interesting to that sect; whatever the motive, we very often find the two sects hoard up their private animosities and dislikes until the return of Mahurrum, which scarcely ever passes over, in any extensively populated city of Hindoostaun, without a serious quarrel, often terminating in bloodshed.
I could have given a more lengthened account of the events which led to the solemnization of this fast, but I believe the present is sufficient to explain the motives by which the Mussulmauns are actuated, and my next Letter must be devoted to the description of the rites performed upon the celebration of these events in India.
P.S. I have a memorandum in my collection which may here be copied as its proper place.
From Mecca, 'The Holy City', to Medina the distance is twelve stages (a day's march is one stage, about twenty miles of English measurement). From Medina to Kraabaallah there are twenty-one stages; this distance is travelled only by those who can endure great difficulties; neither water nor provisions are to be met with on the whole journey, excepting at one halt, the name of which is Shimmaar. From Kraabaallah to Koofah is two stages.
In the vicinity of Koofah stands Mount Judee (Judea), on which is built, over the remains of Ali, the mausoleum called Nudghiff Usheruff. On this Mount, it is said, Adam and Noah were buried. Ali being aware of this, gave directions to his family and friends, that whenever his soul should be recalled from earth, his mortal remains were to be deposited near those graves venerated and held sacred 'by the faithful'. The ancient writers of Arabia authorise the opinion that Ali's body was entombed by the hands of his sons, Hasan and Hosein, who found the earth open to receive their sire, and which closed immediately on his remains being deposited.
Here, too, it is believed Noah's ark rested after the Deluge. When pilgrims to Mecca make their zeearut (all sacred visits are so called) to this Mount, they offer three prayers, in memory of Adam, Noah, and All.
The grave of Eve is also frequently visited by pilgrims, which is said to be situated near Jeddah; this, however, is not considered an indispensable duty, but, as they say, prompted by 'respect for the Mother of men'.
These remarks, and many others
interesting nature, I have been favoured with from the most venerable
man I ever knew, Meer Hadjee Shaah, the revered father of my
husband; who having performed the Hadje (pilgrimage) three several
times, at different periods of his eventful life--returning after each
pilgrimage to his home in Lucknow--and being a person of strict
with a remarkably intelligent mind and retentive memory, I have
largely by his information, and derived from it both amusement and
through many years of social intercourse. When he had numbered more
eighty years he dwelt with hope on again performing the Hadje, where it
was his intention to rest his earthly substance until the great day of
restitution, and often expressed his wishes to have me and mine to
with him the pilgrimage he desired to make. But this was not allowed to
his prayer; his summons arrived rather unexpectedly to those who loved
and revered him for virtues rarely equalled; happily for him, his pure
soul was prepared to meet his Creator, in whose service he had passed
life, with all humility, and in whose mercy alone his hopes for the
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